6 December 2012

Kenya: Baragoi Massacre - the Untold Story

RECENT conflicts in Samburu North district where more than 42 police officers were killed are politically instigated, investigations by the Star reveal. Unequal distribution of resources by the state could have contributed to the perennial raids between the two communities.

The Samburu and Turkana are fighting for political supremacy in the region in the March 4 general election.

Our investigations established that local politicians have been fuelling war between the communities.

"It is no longer about cattle raids but control over Samburu North constituency," says Raisy Letura, a field officer with Saidia, a local health-based NGO in Baragoi. "Each community wants to outdo the other. Something needs to be done urgently to avoid a repeat of what happened."

Recently, CID director Ndegwa Muhoro summoned MPs Josephat Nanok of Turkana South, John Munyes of Turkana North, Ekwe Ethuro of Turkana Central and nominated MP Maison Leshomo from Samburu County to shed some light on what they know about the murder of the 42 police officers in Suguta Valley.

"From their talks, we believe the four legislators have more information on the attack and that is why we have summoned them to help us in the ongoing investigations," Muhoro said.

The MPs claimed the operation in Suguta Valley was poorly planned and executed. The MPs say Samburu warriors were allowed to be part of the police operations against the rustlers from the Turkana community.

"The police were not going to pursue cattle rustlers. They were going to raid a certain Turkana manyatta. The Turkana decided, no, they should confront the officers in the valley to protect their children and families; let's face the facts," said Munyes. The Turkana MPs were later taken to court but their case was dropped.

Members of the Turkana community accuse nominated MP Maison Leshomo of campaigning for herders from Turkana communty to be expelled from the region which is considered Samburu land.

The locals say the MP was using her connections with powerful people in the government to attack the Turkana, a claim Leshomo denied.

"Leshomo gets government support especially from the local DC's office," said a civic leader who sought anonymity. "Whatever the MP says is taken to be final by the local leadership."

He recalls an incident where the MP was flown in a police chopper before an operation was conducted at Tialle village in Kawop location on September 27 last year.

"Why was the MP accorded such status by the security team?" he posed.

However, District Commissioner Tim Njoka denied the claims that the MP was receiving favourable treatment from the government. He said his office is open to all.

"I am not aware of any special treatment accorded to any MP. I am a government officer and treat all citizens equally," Njoka said on the phone from his Baragoi office.

Samburu North headquarters is at Baragoi. The Turkana live on the Western side while the Samburu occupy the Eastern part. The Baragoi-Maralal road makes the physical boundary between the two communities. When livestock cross either side, they cannot be traced. Both communities are pastoralists.

The two communities have on many occasions been involved in armed conflicts. Samburu is blighted by insecurity, in part due to proliferation of small arms that promote the culture of cattle rustling. "Baragoi is the epicentre of Samburu North," says Raisy. "When one wins Baragoi, it is believed that he or she has control over the whole of Samburu North."

Baragoi plains are regarded as one of the best grazing fields, according to Raisy.

"This area (Baragoi plains) has good grass and it is not hot, so herders like the place because the grass does not dry up so fast," says Raisy.

"The locals can live in peace but with politicians, conflicts will always be part of them," says a secondary school teacher who sought anonymity.

The teacher from Samburu community said what has been witnessed in the recent past could degenerate into more conflicts if politicians are allowed to dictate the terms. "I have to be sincere here. The way politics is gaining momentum, things won't cool down any time soon," he says.

Residents interviewed said the creation of new Electoral and Boundaries Commission has made one community feel they are politically "swallowed" after several county wards were merged which, according to them, would mean they will be denied equal representation.

Initially, there were 11 wards in Samburu North but these were reduced to six.

Five of the wards, namely Ngiro West, Kawap, Nachola, Marti and Baragoi, were held by councillors from the Turkana community.

The Elbarta, Lesikan, Latakwen, Arsim, South Horr and Ewaso Rongai wards were held by councillors from the Samburu community.

But in the new boundaries, Nachola - which comprises Nachola, Nakuparat, Terter, Lonyangaten, Kalele, Lokorkor, and Emoru-Akiring sub-locations - is viewed as the only ward that a Turkana aspirant can win.

Other wards are El-Barta which comprises Bendera, Naling'ang'or, Baragoi Town, Ngilai, Marti, Suyan and Maskita sub-locations while Ndoto comprises Lesirikan, Lodua, Arsim, Illaut, Loikumkum, Nguronit, Latakweny and Seren sub-locations.

Nyiro has Lkotikal, Uaso Rongai, Simale, South Horr, Tuum, Parkati, Ijuk, Loonjorin, Lkayo, Lusurkoi and Nakweny sub-locations and Angata Nayokie consists of Lulu, Morijo, Soit Naibor, Barsaloi, Loibashai and Angata Nyokie sub-locations.

Baawa ward has Moru, Baawa, Ibukoi, Mabati, Opiroi, Lorrok-Iolmong'o and Nonkeek sub-locations.

"The new county wards are the cause of unrest in Samburu North," says Jacob Lotupai. "We feel there will be unequal representation because as it is, Turkanas will just have one ward in their control."

Lotupai says by merging the county wards, the Turkana feel marginalised since their representation in Samburu county government will be reduced.

He says local politicians are the main architects and beneficiaries of the conflict since one community will be forced to flee from the area which will make them not register and vote in the forthcoming general election.

Already some local residents - especially from the Turkana community - have moved from their homes in fear of the expected police operation. The Turkana argue this is an attempt to destabilise them and make them not to register in large numbers.

Of concern is Samburu North parliamentary seat, which according to the Turkana, the Samburu fear losing if all of them register as voters. "This operation was meant to make us flee," says Raphael Etungunam. "Why was it planned at a time when registration of voters is being done? Where will all those who have been displaced register?"

Samburus will be fielding more than one candidate which could make a Turkana win the seat, says a local trader who sought anonymity.

"So far Samburu have produced four aspirants which may make them lose the seat despite their numerical strength while Turkana has only one candidate," Etungunam explains as he takes a sip of his favourite Coca Cola to accompany the miraa (khat) he has been chewing throughout the interview. "Turkana will be riding on Richard Nabei who has chosen to be an independent candidate. He chose to stay out of party politics because Samburus would gang up against him."

Those who have expressed their interest from Samburu side include Peter Lenges of Kanu, Thomas Leremore of ODM, Musa Lentoimanka of TNA and a Lepatuiye of URP.

It is not clear whether those who fled their manyattas registered as voters. There are claims that many people would miss the exercise since numerous have no identity cards following persistent raids in the area.

"Look at what has happened to those who lived in Nachola manyatta; they have all moved to Kekkordong and no one should expect them to register as voters," Etungunam says. "We are already seeing a population of about 3,000 people not voting in Nachola. That will definitely tilt the election results."

Lotupai claims nominated MP Leshomo is behind the clashes. "On one occasion, the MP came to Baragoi where she held a public baraza and said all Turkanas must leave Samburu North," says Lotupai. "I was in attendance and this was said in front of police officers but nothing was done to her after 'ordering' the Turkana community to return the stolen animals."

But Leshomo has defended herself, saying she had no intentions of waging war in Samburu while she is eyeing an elective post in the general election.

"I am aspiring to be the women representative in Samburu County. I will need everybody to vote for me. I will need the Turkana to vote to win," said the MP on the phone.

Other than politics, potential exploration of minerals in the area has heightened animosity between the two communities. Most of this has not gone down well with the Samburu because they are all found in areas occupied by the Turkana which the Samburu view as their ancestral land.

Although both communities have lived together since time immemorial, the Samburu still view the Turkana as "foreigners".

Jonah Lentoimanga, a Samburu, says the Turkana have taken over almost everything in Samburu North. "They (the Turkana) have taken almost every business and jobs in the area. The Samburu have been left with nothing."

Reports there could be gold deposits in Tirtir area has made the area one of the most sought after by the two communities.

A geological survey done in 1996 and 1997 by Anglo American Company showed the possibility of availability of gold deposits in the area. Three prospected geothermal wells in Marti, Parkati and Parria 1 set to be drilled next year are viewed as benefitting members of the Turkana community. "This has been an underlying factor that secretly fuel the clashes between the two communities," said Abdulsalam Mohamed, a businessman in Baragoi. "This should be addressed at this stage to avoid more bloodshed." Raisy concurs: "The unequal distribution of resources could be a major problem if it is not addressed now."

With oil findings in Ngamia 1 which lies on the same belt with Suguta Valley, it is rumoured in the area that there is the possibility of an oil find in Suguta Valley which has made it a major bone of contention between the two communities.

There are other mineral deposits in the region which Samburus feel their Turkana counterparts will have undue advantage of.

Animosity between the two communities was evident when Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi led a Parliamentary Select Committee to Maralal two weeks ago and representatives of the two communities refused to sit together in the meeting.

Representatives from Turkana protested the presence of Samburu East MP Raphael Letimalo and Leshomo who is a nominated MP. Both are Samburus.

It forced the team to hold two separate meetings to hear their grievances. No Turkana MP was present in the meeting held in Maralal. However the team did not visit Baragoi as expected.

During the meeting, representatives from Turkana protested to the MPs that the government had neglected them and sided with the Samburu.

Samburu North MP Simeon Lesirma is said to be taking a neutral ground over the matter and has not commented about it.

"Lesirma who is eyeing a senatorial post in the county wants to win votes from both communities and anybody with the Turkana vote will carry the day," says Abdisalam.

In March this year, Lesirma, who is the Internal Security assistant minister, accused some "three cabinet ministers of fuelling tribal animosity and orchestrating raids in Samburu County".

Without mentioning names, Lesirma said the MPs were organising attacks in the county while pretending to be helping the locals.

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